Book Report? What’s a Book?

“Ode to Ray Bradbury”, linocut collage; 2015

With the Internet, social media platforms, or, overall digital as our current mode of both gathering information (acquiring knowledge) and communicating the same, it is no wonder we are all at odds with each other w/r/t reality and truth. We no longer rely upon a linear history, see things in relation to that which came before, but, like our screen-world reality, tap in to any sourceless floating bit of information that has been manufactured for us by the consumerism of the Internet (the marketing of self and the self being marketed cannot be overlooked)  which has replaced lengthy book-reading scholarship and study.  Our use of digital sources for information-gathering leads us further into the so-called rabbit-hole of partisan-baited freelancers whose marketing of untenable “knowledge” gives to us our current politics. Classic literary scholarship’s been supplanted by the consumer-driven computer screen and we are living the result.

The very information we now process is no longer the result of hours of focused study in quiet library studies, but is an easily accessible montage of quickly-passing parts; bits of jotted thought or transmitted comment made virtually resource-less; free-floating pieces arrived at by an associative search removing one from our former context of a linear history.  The pieces taken out of the (existing) timeline are cut and pasted into the present-day context of the immediate Search Engine without consideration for the source, order, or sequence in which this is being done.   

This slicing and splicing together becomes the current context; the computer screen’s surface poses the notion of always being present, [no past pages turned] and thus, the democratization of information meets up with the mirroring universal literacy driving it.  It is a perfect pairing of form and content as well as being the embodiment of “form is content”. The medium is (as has been prophesied ad infinitum) the message.  The way in which we now “acquire knowledge” is, in fact, a direct reflection of the “knowledge we acquire.” 

However at home we may feel at our computer screens, there is still an overbearing weight to assume in being able to digest all that is available via this medium.  A book from cover to cover is digestible; an endless Google Search is not.  In paradox, we assume an easier time of acquiring knowledge, but are far more pressed to admit the impossibility of ever digesting anything fully.  From out of the much larger context, we extract what we want, what we need.  We need not read anything in its entirety because the new form denies us the ability.  And, maybe more alarmingly, our current socio-political conversation seems not to require it.  Our current nonlinear collecting of linked information (source unknown, validity dubious) will give us as much of the meaning of a work as would our cursory skimming over of it.

The old trick of reading the back cover synopsis of a book in order to write a book report has become for us now – the PRIMARY way in which we operate within our knowledge-seeking world.  There is far too much at our fingertips for us to do anything other.  (I cannot read this book by Monday).  It is no longer just one book we have to read and comprehend, but all of them.  They are all there, linked together beyond any manageable comprehending boundary.  We are overwhelmed before we even begin. 

It is no surprise, given our propensity for convenience, that we’ve opted to indulge in the easy alternative:  that of skipping and searching and looking for enough links and tangents to get to the theme we must arrive at in order to “write our paper.”  We won’t pass without it.  The plot we’ve tackled easily on our first Google search.  The meaning, though, our truest obstacle to be met – will forever remain out of reach given the path we’ve chosen – that of the present paradigm of computer screen as perfectly fine library-aisle substitute.   

2021

We all love sunsets

How we consider a sun setting in the evening sky to be beautiful, to prompt a running-to-get-our-camera moment relies upon history and context and acculturation alongside our own neurological pathway-building influence of what we think of as beautiful “automatically” – how we have become seemingly auto-responsive to, and, yet, at the same time, have learned through our cumulative viewing experiences to love symmetry, contrasting colors, movement in space, Pythagoras’s triangles, harmonic structures and post and lintel construction.  It is both ingrained and learned. 

We all love sunsets for their colors, their striking visual display regardless of ever having been taught about color or striking visual displays.  But we also love sunsets because we have seen so many sunsets taken out of the flow of the everyday and ordinary to become something stand-alone beautiful, something shown to us over and over as an example of something beautiful to look at, to take in, to mystically observe and urge us to consider this one section of the whole sky at this particular time of the day.  Cameras are summoned to record these visual displays as our culturally-formed reflexes are reinforced. Is it merely the sharp color contrasts that move us, their fleeting duration, or is there something more meaningful in connecting the setting of the sun with the ending of a day which exists no longer, just as the colors diminish before us? Is this the connection we are making (one of the symbolic rather than the mere signifying?) with the sky’s colors and our own lives diminished by one more day?

We have learned to frame things in our minds, adjust our inner palettes to appreciate the sliver from the vastness, for the whole is far too great; the required rules of symmetry and soothing color shifts all help in the creation of the beautiful.  A harsh light stressing our retinal retention capacity is not seen as beautiful; but place the very same light in the sky at a distance, give it some capacity for dispersing itself gently and we somehow find in it, beauty. 

Perspective shifts of common elements aim for the beautiful; the context then, serving to administer the qualities needed to experience it.  One single flower growing out of a cement block in an otherwise gray drab slab of concrete appears to us beautiful despite its contextual reality – its place out-of-place, its natural reality far more harsh and unforgiving (does it live as if well-tethered in rich soil and ample water?) than if set within a field of anonymity and likeness and same.  Is it the contrast, then, the context of this which determines the experiencing of the beautiful?  Is it the “framing of” that again is required for us to even notice?

This all leads to the artist and the art created for us to look at.  The response to something visually beautiful is simply our natural inclination mixed with a continued repetition of having noted such things over and over in order for them to impress upon us some sort of ingrained survival mode which, if beneficial to us, if strong enough to last, will have proven itself valid and necessary simply by the virtue of its lasting; its capitulation due to such repetition -like the worn-out comfort of an armchair after decades of daily use.  The artist need not be mired in the questioning of what is beautiful, for by the very virtue of the artist’s “framing of” – selecting and setting apart for us to look at – this should all be resolved for the artist in the end — if the art is working. 

that venue for showing art

caa show announcement

Regarding the static painted visual art piece on a wall, or, the static sculpted object on a pedestal, what are we to read beyond the object’s own “art-object-ness” in a recycled environment of reference and quotation? Can the object we now make be successful at translating our meaning given its expected reception in a now seemingly all-too familiar field? Is the gallery context itself somehow inhibiting as it moves from exclusive space visited by students of art and other artists to the David Byrne familiar with Eric Fischl painting art’s own art-going morphology?

Is it like the phenomenon of digital accessibility —- with too much equaling too ordinary and expected for us to even blink an eye no matter the possible strength of the work residing? Can the static art object give us the reading it means to in its current context of “being art in a gallery”? or, have we become too savvy an audience, too familiar with how the system works for the art object itself to move beyond the space it relies upon for its translation?

Is Visual Art stuck in its own necessary replication, unable to move beyond the “look” of what we know art on a wall to be, to move beyond the entrenched orthodoxy of this look, this paradigm? Does the gallery space by default, due to our familiarity with it – create for the artist a space impossible for understanding the actual work?  Is our awareness of “looking at art” getting in the way?  Has our method of looking overwhelmed the actual art (if there is any) to be found?

Not unlike a Kafka character caught in truest dilemma, the balance for both lies between the method used (gallery space = traveling circus ) and, the very awareness of the method by both the artist (when placing work in such a prescribed space) and the viewer (upon experiencing that space).  Both require an isolation without self-awareness, and, given our method of viewing art – (which includes taking along our image-conscious selves), neither of these seems possible.

Sept.  2018

today’s realism and bowls of fruit drawn, painted

 

Apples with PLU - entry 1

  • Apples [w/ PLU Sticker] in Pewter Bowl : ( w/r/t the history of Still Life painting)  37” x 46” – Digital – inkjet collage – 2016

 

A realistically drawn apple may be read as the mastering of a skill in the field of representational drawing.  There are endless ways in which the drawing can be done:  varying materials, altering the approach in tackling formal qualities, playing with scale to name but a few.

 

The subject of an apple, or, bowl of fruit, allows for a connection with 2-dimensional art’s tradition, its history in both the academic “learning how to draw” and the prominent genre works found in painting.  This connecting to the past empowers the apple, the fruit as subject matter, referencing a linear progression comprising any true discipline or study which, in turn, genially accounts for its validity and, yes, its relevance.

 

Depending upon how “good” the drawn fruit is (honoring the laws of Realism) will determine the level of mastering.  The drawing becomes somewhat of a biographical sketch of where the artist is at the time in the advancement of a learned technical skill.  Like hitting the perfect note in music, the wows of the viewer are in response to the artist’s performance, the result of a practiced skill, the visual cue to an artist’s bettering this sought-after facility.  We are struck by the artist’s ongoing mastery of drawing something convincingly “real” on a 2-D surface.

 

In looking at a drawing of an apple or fruit Still-life made today, we might be asked to look at it not in terms of success or failure of a bench-marked realism, (our go-to assessment as viewers) but rather in terms of the choice of subject matter itself.  It is in the choosing to draw an apple, fruit bowl that is now our subject matter.  Not unlike our original choosing of the apple, the enactment, the act of drawing or painting is now our content.

 

The weight fruit carries today is not the same in origin, when introduced as subject as it was for Bruegel, Chardin, Courbet.  Our supermarket-stickered fruit reads far differently than the anonymous peasant apple-carting of a Bruegel, the bourgeoisie interior sitting-room of a Chardin, or the crumbling aristocracy of a Courbet.  Our fruit drawings or paintings hold all of these weighted meanings in reference and tribute which is now our subject.

 

In today’s world of the ease of digital rendering, and, an omnipresence of PLU- stickered fruit, the romantic notion of a fruit bowl set in golden-hued light on an elegantly arranged table seems foreign, out-of-date, remote, exotic.  The only connection to this is precedent, art’s own history’s role in continuity of subject for meaning.  We paint and draw fruit because we know painted and drawn fruit register as art.  Still-lifes are wonderful rendering workshops and tradition gives us the proverbial nod to go right ahead and draw the apple, so to speak.  Weight of subject matter is found with a nod from history and the enactment of the actual making.

 

The art part, if there is any to be found, might arise, for instance, from the enacted, the activity or ‘scene from a play’, [maybe Chekhov in spirit?] where the fruit bowl is set upon an old yet elegant gate-legged table, and a drawing is worked on by an actor on stage, the actual result never seen by the audience.

The fruit bowl need not be drawn or painted well, poorly, or … at all, even, for the visual prompt to our much larger subject matter is there, found in the reference to an acceptable academic art-making approach and made real by our artist’s set-up of easel and oils; and, our artist, maybe long-since disillusioned —- yet still searching for meaning in a palette of colors fully within physical reach, but, irretrievably lost to one’s failing eyesight or quickly closing memory.

 

May  2018